Tepper School of Business students, faculty and staff poured in to the standing-room-only auditorium, eager to interact with school benefactor David Tepper, MBA ’82. As president and founder of Appaloosa Management, Tepper is recognized as one of the world’s most successful hedge fund managers.
Dean Robert Dammon welcomed Tepper on behalf of the school community, underscoring the significance of the day.
“We’re celebrating the Tepper School’s 10th year naming-anniversary,” said Dammon, “which was made possible by a generous $55 million gift from David Tepper."
"This occasion is a good opportunity for us to celebrate further,” he added. “As you all know, last fall David made another gift to the university — in the amount of $67 million — to create a world-class innovation and entrepreneurship hub known as the Tepper Quadrangle. And the first building in that quad will be a new home for the Tepper School of Business.”
Following Dammon’s remarks, Alejandro Aceves, MBA ’14, and Alexander Brown, MBA ’15, the past and current presidents of the sponsoring Graduate Business Association, opened the forum for discussion in a Q&A-based format.
Both graduate and undergraduate business students lined up for the chance to pose questions to Tepper, many interested in seeking his insight and advice.
In describing the motivation behind his generosity, Tepper elaborated separately on his two major gifts.
“My first gift was paying back,” said Tepper. “I received a great education here. It was — and is — as good an education as any you can possibly get. It helped me through my career.”
“With the second gift,” he added, “I want to help to elevate the school. The greater vision is to allow for more entrepreneurial activity here, more integration of the business school with the rest of the university.”
In response to a question on how students might also contribute to this vision, Tepper said, “When you give, you get so much back in many different ways. And don’t be shy. We’re a little modest here. Tell people how great this place is.”
When asked the most valuable aspect of his education, he recounted the memory of using a not-yet-bound options trading book, representative of the school’s ability to remain always on the cutting edge, and stated that his education gave him a great foundation. He also relayed an anecdote from early in his career, pointing out that he was able to recognize that an accepted trading model was “just wrong” due to his Carnegie Mellon training.
“It’s a rigorous education here, and it really does prepare you for what you’ll see out there,” he said.
Tepper stressed the importance of ethical business behavior, emphasizing that doing the right thing will always be the best decision in the long term. He gave a personal example of opposing an influential corporate head by refusing to make unethical trades, at the expense of his own advancement.
Regarding personality traits necessary for a good investment manager, Tepper counseled steadiness.
“No one is smarter than the market,” he said. “If you invest long enough, you’re going to be wrong. What separates a good investor from a great one is the ability to shake it off.”
Equally important, he noted, is the importance of staying grounded when things are going well.
Tepper touched on the importance of work-life balance — “you decide what’s important in your life” — and his dedication to philanthropy, particularly education.
He commented on his apparent business confidence, explaining, “When we make a big investment, we try to figure out what the downside is, try to control the risk on the other side. This means never to leave the firm in jeopardy…the key is to know when you first make the investment, how it will unwind.”
To a question on getting to know him as a person, Tepper offered an unabashed Elvis impersonation, breaking into song amidst the cheers and applause of the crowd.
Regarding advice on career direction, Tepper hesitated to pick changing areas of growth, instead saying, "Figure out what you like to do best, and find a job where you can do that. Get incredible experience, learn as much as you can.”
In closing, the grateful students presented Tepper with a custom flag emblazoned with the school’s name, to remind him of the community’s pride in the school and appreciation of his support.
At the conclusion of the event, Tepper stayed on, shaking the hand of every student who lined up — nearly to the back of the auditorium — to meet and pose proudly with their school’s namesake.